Get Ready for a Brighter Future: On Cars, It’s No Longer ‘Any Color So Long As It’s Black’

By Kurt Stolz on 28 January 2021
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2013 VW Beetle TDI Convertible in Tornado Red

If you drive a bright red automobile, you’re in the minority, something that is clearly in evidence in a sea of black and white and grey vehicles that line American streets.

Indeed, buyers overwhelmingly choose black or white vehicles over other more lively choices, even though the choice of paint color defines the look of a car perhaps more so than anything else.  As of 2020, white was globally the most popular color choice for the tenth year in a row.

The trend towards boring colors goes back to Henry Ford and the Model T, which made its debut in 1908 and is frequently referred to as the “Tin Lizzie.” The Model T’s popularity was due in part its low price, which in turn was made possible by Ford’s assembly line production process, which used asphalt-based baked enamels instead of oil-based coating formulations that were common on horse-drawn carriages and earlier automobiles.

“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black,” Ford proclaimed.

The 1920s saw brilliant shades on cars.  Alfred P. Sloan, the long-time CEO of General Motors who introduced the annual model year change, brand differentiation, automotive design and styling, and planned obsolescence, believed that buyers of lower-cost vehicles, such as the Oakland, would appreciate a range of color choices and he happily obliged.

Ford, however, resisted, threatening to void the warranty of any Model T that had been repainted in another color.

Fast forward to 2021, a time when the sky is the limit when it comes to painting cars any color but black, and it gives one pause to try and understand why the overwhelming majority of vehicles today are so black and white.

Volkswagen, which has a history of offering its vehicles in fairly dramatic colors such as Jade Green, Pearl White, and Ruby Red for the Type 2 Microbus and Yukon Yellow, Bahama Blue, and Jade Green for 1960s Beetles, says there is a “glimmer of hope” for those who prefer their cars to be more colorful.

“Color is always shifting, and our color perception is always evolving depending on what we see, what we observe, and what we live with,” said the automaker’s senior color designer, Jung Lim Park, in a recent statement.

“Working in the color world, I learned that Asia Pacific, Europe, and North America have very distinct color preferences,” said Park. Park says that the Asia-Pacific region is the “least colorful” and that, in Europe, compared to North America, grey and blue have always been more popular than silver, which is more popular in North America.

“Color preferences really reflect the unique social and cultural trends and even geography [of the region one lives in],” Park noted.

Park believes that automobile buyers, who during the pandemic see much of the world from the displays of smartphones, laptops, and tablets, will want colors in real life that “pop” much in the same manner colors pop in virtual settings.

“The future is getting colorful, for sure,” he declared.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)